How giving and sharing help build a sense of community
Trading plant cuttings, kefir, sourdough starter, and kombucha is becoming common practice thanks to the internet. More than a way to learn about the cultivation of plants and fermented products, these groups create bonds and a sense of belonging which is so important for personal well-being.
On social networks and online forums, an old practice is becoming more and more widespread: barter. Facebook groups dedicated to exchanging cuttings are multiplying. The gifting and exchange of fermented products like kefir, kombucha and sourdough stir up forums or even neighborhood groups. The advantage of these digital spaces is obvious: they allow us to expand our collection of plants or finally bake our own sourdough breads. These groups also create something invisible but very precious: A sense of community.
Cuttings or kefir exchange groups are a little bit different than your other trading groups: they do not share objects, but living beings that contribute to the well-being and health of people. They need to be cultivated, which prompts participants to seek out and share information about their behavior and the best conditions to keep them alive. These exchanges also involve more precautions in terms of transport: barter is often done in person (socially distanced, of course!) or by well-packaged mail. The peculiarities of plants and fermented products only add to the creation of a rich community, their exchange can be the potential bridge for new friendships.
The website kefirlandia.org defines itself as a "kefir and kombucha exchange community where sharing is the currency." It is divided into two parts: one on the exchange of information on probiotics, and the other on donation between people in French-speaking countries such as Quebec, France and Switzerland. The instructions on the site invite people to "find a time to drink coffee with the person and pass the probiotic on." Procurers of kefir and kombucha are invited to take advantage of the exchange "to discover a region on a weekend wander" if the person you’re trading with lives in another city. The site not only offers to exchange useful information for novices at the time of the trade, but also to take the opportunity to make human contact. While this may be limited in our current reality, we can certainly take the time to meet the people we’re sharing with in some capacity. Perhaps by sharing a coffee and some tips over a zoom call, or meeting for a socially-distanced stroll.
Why do we share these things?
Fermented products, like kefir, kombucha, jun tea, and sourdough, are cultures of bacteria that reproduce very quickly. This is why sharing is so closely linked to the cultivation of these products. Sourdough, for example, requires refreshment, which involves discarding half of its volume and adding fresh flour and water daily. This surplus is the basis of barter and donation: a post on Reddit offers an international exchange to compare the tastes of sourdoughs from different countries. The Hands in the Dough blog has created a “sourdough bank” to connect people who have an active sourdough culture at home with those who want to start baking their own bread. The creator of the blog was inspired by her own experience: she was marked by a discussion with a baker who gave her a piece of his sourdough starter. As she writes, "This exchange, this gift, has changed the way I make bread.”
In the case of plants, exchanges are based on the joy of successfully making a cutting. Of transforming a living piece of stem and leaves into a new plant, and of seeing the roots grow in a glass of water. The feeling of accomplishment and nurturing motivates plant people to share small items from their collection. Before the pandemic, Studio Foliage held regular plant-swaps in the spring, summer and fall. In turn, the Montreal Indoor Plants Facebook group, which has more than 6,000 members, also encourages its members to organize their own neighborhood plant-swaps. These plant exchanges can also be the common ground which opens the doors to new relationships and communities!
What are the benefits of donations and exchanges?
According to psychology researchers McMillan and Chavis, a sense of community represents a sense of belonging to a group. Its members matter to each other and feel that their needs will be met through their common commitment. Research conducted at the University of Quebec in Montreal shows that members of virtual spaces can create a bond that connects them symbolically and socially to the community. It is through participation, information sharing, and helping those who ask questions that a sense of belonging is built. Gradually, a person who first joined a group to get their hands on kefir grains ended up communicating frequently with their other members. They feel comfortable asking questions, answering others' questions, sharing articles and sometimes even personal information. The more knowledge participants acquire, the more they want to pass it on to new members and support them in their discoveries.
By creating a sense of community, exchange forums contribute to the well-being of their members. The feeling of belonging to a group makes us feel accepted for who we are, which builds self-esteem. This feeling is also a weapon against loneliness, and even a resource in the face of illnesses such as depression. By participating in a group, its members feel supported and more comfortable asking for help when they need it. Even more, the community gives us reasons to act. In a group, everyone has their role and plays their part in the service of others. Whether the role is giving advice on caring for a plant or donating kombucha scoby, sharing our experiences and expertise provides us with a sense of value and purpose, which in turn supports our individual well-being and mental health.
Several studies prove the effects of a sense of community on quality of life. Research from Norway has shown that community participation is conducive to a long life and helps us to deal with stressful situations. According to a US study, participating in a community is also a way of preserving the cognitive capacities of adults. Studies from Whitehall in the UK estimate that people without social support are five times more likely to develop mental illness.
What are the benefits of plants and fermented products?
Having plants in the home is scientifically proven to contribute to well-being and positive mental health. The color green helps to relax, while plant care reduces stress and feelings of loneliness and sadness.
Some fermented products, such as kefir and kombucha, contain probiotics, which help balance the gut microbiota - the collection of bacteria living in our intestines. The importance of the microbiota for health has been scientifically proven. While not a substitute for a balanced diet and regular physical activity (which of course are essential for good health!), probiotics strengthen the immune system and promote regular bowel movements.
All in all, in addition to being accompanied by many joys associated with belonging to a community, the trading of plants and fermented products helps to take care of oneself and one's health 💚
Author Bio: Taís Toti
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Taís Toti works as a freelance journalist and translator. She holds a MA in Art History from the Ecole en Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris and enjoys writing about culture, art, health and wellbeing. Her work is featured on VICE, MTV, Billboard and several Brazilian news outlets.
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